Katy Clark, former Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, sets out five troubling facts about CalMac and the privatisation of lifeline services.


Whether Clyde and Hebrides ferry services (CHFS) are privatised or not will be solely up to the SNP and the Scottish Government.

There are five facts that should make ferry users very concerned indeed that the SNP government are serious about privatisation.

First, where the Scottish Government have already made a decision on our ferries they bowed to corporate pressure and opted for privatisation. The publicly owned Northlink ferry services were privatised by the SNP in 2012, with the contract handed over to corporate giants SERCO. This provoked the RMT union into their first industrial action on this service for over 30 years as a result of SERCO’s immediate attacks on jobs and pensions. Passengers also suffered with fare increases and cuts to services and concessionary travel.

Second, the Scottish Government have started the tendering process for Clyde and Hebrides ferry services despite the Scottish TUC, maritime unions and experts all arguing that tendering is unnecessary. Scottish Ministers parrot the same old lines about European Union rules when what they should really be doing is challenging or at the very least querying the European Union over the requirement to tender. Indeed this was what the SNP urged the previous Labour and Liberal Democrat administration to do in 2004 when it inflicted a defeat on the then Scottish Executive in 2004 over its tendering plans following the abstention of 15 Scottish Labour MSPs.

Sadly today the SNP are committed to a privatisation agenda, as emphasised earlier this year when the Scottish Transport minister enthusiastically extolled the whole process by declaring the CHFS contract length has been lengthened:

“to make it more attractive to potential bidders [such as SERCO] by giving the operators more opportunity to deliver service improvements and efficiencies over the course of the contract”.

Third, the unions have been asking for a number of years for a simple “yes” as to whether the CalMac workforce will have at least the same pension and employment protections as when the services were last tendered. But the Scottish Government has still refused to agree to this minimal demand, raising concerns that SERCO are holding out for a free rein to maximise profits by attacking the jobs and conditions of CalMac workers.

The last Labour/Liberal Democrat administration at Holyrood included significant employment safeguards in the previous tendering process in these routes, guaranteeing that both existing and new employees on the routes would have their terms and conditions protected. These safeguards, which were introduced under the threat of a further backbench rebellion, not only protected employee rights but made the prospect of a successful public sector bid more likely.

Fourth, it is not just their privatisation of Northlink ferry services which shows the Scottish Government has a record of putting corporations before communities. SNP ministers were also cowed by the bus corporations into opposing proposals to regulate and improve our bus services. And the Scottish Government rushed to re-privatise Scotrail despite being on the brink of receiving new powers that could have allowed us to run our railways in the public ownership.

Fifth and finally there is the question of the timetable for the tendering. The Scottish Government say the process will reach its conclusion with the announcement of a successful bidder by ‘the end of May 2016′.  The next elections to the Scottish Parliament are due to take place on May 5th 2016. Surely the process should be bought forward so voters can hold the Scottish Government to account on any decision before the election? What are they afraid of?”

Labour and the Liberal Democrats were wrong to go ahead with the tendering which cost many millions of pounds in 2004/2005, and the SNP are wrong to do it now. The lack of stronger protections for the workforce in the tendering process mean that a private sector bid is more likely to be successful this time.